A Nation of Hobbyists, Logos on Our Backs, Etc.

The word “hobby” has an old-fashioned ring to it, calling to mind images of elderly relatives knitting and playing cribbage. Nonetheless, polls by Gallup indicate Americans are more likely to be hobbyists now than they were half a century ago. Asked whether there’s any hobby in which they’re “particularly interested,” just 19 percent of a new poll’s respondents answered “none.” By contrast, 42 percent of respondents to a 1948 Gallup survey described themselves as hobbyless. What sorts of hobbies do people pursue these days? The most popular category (chosen by 33 percent) was athletics and sports, including bowling, fishing, hunting and horseback riding. Handiwork (including knitting, sewing, woodworking, restoring antiques, tinkering with cars, etc.) was the runner-up, at 17 percent. Filling out the top five were reading, art and music (whether as participant or spectator) and “rural arts and domestic arts” (including gardening, canning, cooking and the like).

It works for hamburgers; it could work for cars. Informed by the views of over 200 auto-industry experts, a study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute foresees a trend toward “built-to-order” vehicles. By 2009, the study says, as many as half of all auto buyers may shun dealer inventories and order just what they want. The report also detects a potential backlash against gas-guzzling SUVs on the part of affluent young consumers, creating an opening for smaller vehicles.

What will the trendily dressed man wear this year? A poll of fashion professionals by the National Association of Men’s Sportswear Buyers sees a motley pattern of fads. Floral prints will adorn summer sportshirts, while military style will show up in sportcoats, outercoats and suits. If you detest patterned pants, you’ll have more occasion to detest them this spring. The rep tie will make a comeback, and denim will turn up in blazers and suits. Silliest-sounding trend of the lot: Having already colonized the fronts of our clothes, large logos and other decorative motifs will take over the backs as well.

Despite those New Year’s resolutions, January is the month when Americans are least likely to be dieting. So we learn from an NPD Group study of the topic. March is the month when people are most likely to be on a diet. Meanwhile, the number of adults who say they’d like to lose 20 pounds has risen from 54 percent in 1995 to 63 percent now, even as the number on guard against dietary fat has slid from 47 percent to 32 percent. We’ll see if those 20 pounds ever do get lost.

From the way people talk about the woes of the high-tech sector, you’d think nobody bought a computer last year. Actually, while sales did drop for information-technology goods, a new report by the Yankee Group pegs the decline at a mere 1.1 percent. It seems far worse than that because everyone had become accustomed to large increases. The report foresees modest growth in info-tech spending this year, at 3.3 percent, followed by a robust rise (11.5 percent) in 2003.

Since the dawn of the Internet age, marketers have wondered whether the new technology was cutting into TV viewing. Evidence has been mixed, but the latest bit of it—a study by Knowledge Networks/Statistical Research—indicates online households aren’t putting their TV sets in mothballs. Rather, online households are half again as likely as nonline households to have rented a VHS tape in the past month (57 percent vs. 37 percent), and they’re also more likely to have premium cable service (25 percent vs. 15 percent).

On the list of reasons to say “good riddance” to 2001, save a spot for the year’s dismal job market in advertising, marketing and media. As you can see from the chart (based on the volume of help-wanted ads in Adweek), the year finished in suitably feeble fashion. The stage is now set—all too thoroughly set, you might say—for a dramatic comeback in 2002.